A decade later, survivor remains grateful for proton therapy
During a routine physical exam in June 2010, my doctor expressed concern about a possible heart abnormality. A CT scan showed my heart was fine, but there was a tumor on my lung. After a biopsy, I learned I had lung cancer. I was completely shocked; I’d had no symptoms.
I’ve always been naturally optimistic and was determined to remain positive that everything would turn out for the best.
During that time, my husband worked for the Energy Institute with The University of Texas System in Austin, Texas. After he shared my diagnosis with colleagues they recommended that we go to MD Anderson.
My husband and I rented an apartment near MD Anderson while I underwent treatment, then returned to Austin on the weekends.
On July 24, I started three rounds of chemotherapy. I had a hard time with nausea, which affected my appetite. My care team prescribed medication to help me cope with the nausea and vomiting.
Once I recovered from chemotherapy, imaging revealed that surgery was not possible due to the location of the tumor. That’s when radiation oncologist Dr. Zhongxing Liao recommended proton therapy. Because the lungs are located close to several critical normal structures in the body, Dr. Liao told me that it would be challenging to deliver a high radiation dosage to the tumor while sparing my nearby normal tissues. That’s why proton therapy was recommended for me. I was relieved to find out that I was able to receive proton therapy and would not have surgery.
On Oct. 12, I started 30 proton therapy treatments. With proton therapy’s ability to precisely target the tumor in my lung, Dr. Liao and her team were able to deliver a higher radiation dose while sparing critical nearby structures. This meant there was no radiation exposure to my esophagus, heart or spinal cord.
I’ve been cancer-free for a decade now
My last proton therapy treatment was on Nov. 10, 2010. I still return to MD Anderson each year for checkups, and Dr. Liao performs stress tests to see if I have any damage to my heart from the radiation. Thankfully, I do not. I experienced a decrease in my kidney function as a result of the chemotherapy, but even that has improved over the years. I am thankful not to experience changes in my lung function over the years.
I can't say that my life has changed post-treatment. The only difference is that I am 10 years older now – 83 to be exact, and that is certainly life-changing!